Republican-led states far from US-Mexico border rush to tighten immigration laws

Republican-led states in the U.S. are rushing to give broader immigration enforcement powers to local police and impose criminal penalties for those living in the country illegally as the issue of migrants crossing the U.S. border remains central to the 2024 elections.
US-Mexico border: Republican-led states in the U.S. are rushing to give broader immigration enforcement powers to local police and impose criminal penalties [VOA]
US-Mexico border: Republican-led states in the U.S. are rushing to give broader immigration enforcement powers to local police and impose criminal penalties [VOA]

US-Mexico border: Republican-led states in the U.S. are rushing to give broader immigration enforcement powers to local police and impose criminal penalties for those living in the country illegally as the issue of migrants crossing the U.S. border remains central to the 2024 elections.

The Oklahoma Legislature this week fast-tracked a bill to the governor that creates the new crime of "impermissible occupation," which imposes penalties of as much as two years in prison for being in the state illegally.

Oklahoma is among several Republican-led states jockeying to push deeper into immigration enforcement as both Republicans and Democrats seize on the issue. That was illustrated in February when President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both visited the U.S.-Mexico border the same day and tussled from a distance over blame for the nation's broken immigration system and how to fix it.

Here are some things to know about the latest efforts in various states to target immigration:

What's happening in Texas?

Lawmakers in Oklahoma followed the lead of Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill last year that would allow the state to arrest and deport people who enter the U.S. illegally. That law is currently on hold while the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers a challenge brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Opponents consider the law to be the most dramatic attempt by a state to police immigration since an Arizona law more than a decade ago, portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court.

What does Oklahoma's bill do?

Oklahoma's law would make it illegal to remain in the state without legal authorization, with a first offense a misdemeanor punishable by as much as a year in jail. Violators would be required to leave the state within 72 hours of being released from custody. A second and subsequent offense would be a felony punishable by as much as two years in prison.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, who carried the bill in the Senate, voiced frustration with the federal government and Congress for not taking more definitive steps to solve the immigration problem.

"The federal government has failed. The U.S. Congress, they have not done anything to impact it," said Treat, an Oklahoma City Republican. "So what can we do? We can say you have to be here legally in Oklahoma."

Outside the state Capitol, more than 100 people gathered Tuesday in opposition to the bill.

Sam Wargin Grimaldo, 36, an attorney from south Oklahoma City whose mother emigrated from Mexico in 1979, urged those who rallied to register to vote and become more politically engaged.

Grimaldo said many Latinos in Oklahoma are frightened about the new law.

"We feel attacked," said Grimaldo, wearing a shirt that read, "Young, Latino and Proud." "People are afraid to step out of their houses if legislation like this is proposed and then passed."

What are other states doing?

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people are in the the country illegally, and it would broadly mandate cooperation in the process of identifying, detaining and deporting them. That bill takes effect July 1. Another proposal there would allow sentencing enhancements up to life in prison for someone in the country illegally who commits a violent crime.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill this month that mirrors part of the Texas law. Another approach at a Texas-style bill is advancing in Louisiana. Idaho lawmakers considered a similar measure but adjourned without passing it.

In the U.S. state of Georgia lawmakers passed a bill that seeks to force jailers to check immigration status, part of a continuing political response to the killing of a nursing student on the University of Georgia campus, allegedly by a Venezuelan man.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill last month to increase prison and jail sentences for immigrants in the United States illegally if they are convicted of felonies or of driving without a license.

What happens next?

Like Texas' new law, many of the bills are almost certain to face legal challenges because immigration is a federal, not a state, issue under the U.S. Constitution, said Kelli Stump, an immigration attorney in Oklahoma City and the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"The whole thing is a mess and the system is broken, but the Constitution says that states handle state issues and the feds handle federal issues," Stump said. "This will ultimately end up at the Supreme Court if I'm a betting person." VOA/SP

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